Wednesday, March 21, 2012


March.  My absolute favorite month.  The reason is simple, just 4 letters:


If you know only a handful of things about me, you'll know that I only drink Coke, I love pizza, and that come Tournament time, don't even think about bothering me for 3 weeks.  Unless we're talking college hoops, we're probably not talking about anything.

I've always loved March Madness (copyright, Indiana High School Athletic Association/NCAA), filling out brackets for as long as I can remember.  I grew up a fan of the Big East, biased by my parents' alma maters (Seton Hall, Villanova), and through most of high school always thought I'd end up at UConn, or somewhere else in the Big East.  Obviously that changed, and I went to Maryland, and that's where my March stories really kick in.

Until you've been to a Final Four that your team is playing in, you have not lived.

I'm serious.  I can count on one hand the number of things I'm most proud of that I've accomplished, and even though I had NOTHING to do with the Terps' success on the court, going to the Final Four, and watching my team win a National Championship, is one of the great highlights of my life.  It also marked the first time I had ever won any sort of Tournament pool, as I clearly had Maryland in a bee-line to the Championship. 

I fastidiously studied each of the then 65 Tournament teams, watching countless hours of Big 10, Big East, Big 12, and PAC 10 games.  I knew everything that was going on in the ACC.  I would have been more proud to scored perfectly on my bracket than to have achieved a 1600 on my SAT (and I think it would have been harder to do).  That set the wheels in motion: could I be the best at picking the brackets?

For years I slaved away, trying to manipulate the perfect bracket.  But alas, it never came.  When Bill Self went to Kansas, I thought to my "Self" - man, Kansas is going to get it done.  For a few years I put them into my FF, even winning it all, only to be let down by early round exits.  Until 2008.  That's when my luck changed.  With 12 of the Sweet 16 teams, I ended up with 7 of the Elite 8, the entire Final Four, and the Championship game: Memphis vs Kansas.  Kansas was down 3 with time evaporating when Mario Chalmers hits a HUGE 3 and sends the game into OT, where Kansas went onto win.  I won my money pool - the first time I had ever won any money playing (in college we weren't allowed to, NCAA rules, like it mattered since we won't have a TRACK TEAM in a few months). 

I had decent results over the next few years, but then this year came and I was slightly disenchanted by the process.  Sure, I've been watching games, but not as many as I used to.  The Terps are in the middle of a serious rebuilding period, and the ACC is pretty weak all around.  This causes me to watch less basketball, and also, the games are on pretty late sometimes. 

Customarily I create a group on's Tournament Challenge and just name it "Terps in [the following year]" and I filled out my bracket there.  I then copied it over to my money pool.  It looked un-intriguing, if that's even a word.  I have felt, all year long, that there were 4 teams that were clearly better than all the rest, and that all the rest are so mediocre that it didn't even matter who played whom.  As the best day of the year came around (Thursday!) I once again felt the rush of excitement of being an ordinary human with really no impact on the outcome of the games. 

By the end of the day, I had done pretty well for myself: 15 and 1.  Normally I'm psyched if I can go 12-4, 13-3.  Every so often I'll go 14-2.  But 15-1 was a great start.  Friday would be the true test.  I took a hit - but so did everyone on the planet - when 2 seeds Missouri and Duke both lost.  It was a big surprise, but since I didn't respect either of their chances of going very far, it didn't sting as bad.  I then won two pretty big victories when USF (12) and Ohio (13) both won.  By the end of Round 1 (now Round 2) I had gone 27-5.  That wasn't too bad.

Saturday came, and besides being St. Patrick's Day, it was a zillion degrees down here in Baltimore - a truly beautiful day.  It almost becomes sad then, that the only thing I want to do, is absorb college basketball.  I got my outside things done, and only missed a little bit of the action, before going deep into the zone of 7 straight hours of basketball watching.  Thanks to CBS, TruTV, TBS, and TNT, we are now able to watch all the games, rather than just the "Game of the Moment."  It is awesome.

Saturday was my no-hitter, my hat trick, my triple double; I went 8 for 8.  I mean, I literally had all 16 teams that were playing that day, and successfully had picked all 8 of the winners of those games.  It was marvelous.  By Saturday night I had moved up to 52nd place in the brackets, out of literally millions and millions of submitted brackets!  It was cool.  I knew it wouldn't last, but it was a great moment for me.

Sunday, like Friday, was the tougher of the two days.  Gone were the sure-things, the can't-lose games.  I cringed, I closed my eyes, I yelled, I clapped, I got excited, I got sad - and in the middle of it all I watched some basketball.  The state of Florida let me down, and the state of Ohio showed it is for real.  Of course, they still live in OHIO, but that's besides the point.  It was a little bit of carnage, I had Florida State in my Elite 8, and they lost, and I lost a couple of other games.  I went from 52nd up to 1600th, but I was still in the 100th percentile in, and was still in the lead of my money pool.  I have 12 of the 16 teams in the S16.  The question now is, how many can I land in the E8?

Do my Final Four picks have what it takes?  Does Kansas have the moxy to win it all again for me?  I'm putting a lot of faith in them, the least they can do for me is give me a fighting chance.

We'll find out, starting again tomorrow!  Let the sleep deprivation begin again!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Kids in a Pool

To paraphrase my main man, Samuel L. Jackson, "that is it! I've had it!"

I'm sick and tired of these monkey-fighting kids in this Monday-to-Friday pool!

Of course, that's the FX-edited version, but you get the drift.  Yesterday, Alyssa and I got into the pool at 5:35pm to do a swim that takes a full hour.  Thursdays are frustrating already because the swim kids are in from 4-5:30, and then masters are in from 6:30-8:00/8:30.  Sidenote: I don't know what they're doing in there that whole time because I don't think most of them are really swimming 5km+ swims.  Anyway, we had just finished our the first 400m of our WARM UP and the lifeguard is giving us the boot.

What now?  "Pool's closed.  A kid...had an accident."

An accident?  Seems more like an on-purpose to me.  Accidents happen.  DIARRHEA does not.  That means your kid is sick.  To allow them into a public pool, that is irresponsible.  Should be charged with attempted murder with a dangerous weapon. 

Furthermore, this is now the 2nd time in the last month that I've been kicked out, on a Thursday night, due to a kid having an accident.  Last time it was "just" vomit, which means pool is closed for the rest of the night, but can re-open in the morning.  DIARRHEA, since it scrapes your esophagus and can pick up E. Coli, means pool is closed for 24 hours. 

I have been a member of the Merritt Athletic Clubs since 2006.  Not only do I like the gym, but the location is ideal for me, and I have enjoyed my time there.  I find it unreasonably priced, at nearly $90/mo (where do you think you are, NY? this is BALTIMORE), but there aren't other viable choices, so I deal.  Recently, they have been getting out of hand with the kids.

I wouldn't suggest asking Alyssa about swim team kids unless you're ready for some yelling.  Since it's mostly tweenage girls, they are terribly misbehaved in the locker room.  The parents are oblivious, and also part of the problem the way they think they own the gym.  Swim team kids currently practice from 4-5:30pm MWTh, taking up 3 lanes (of 4 available).

Then there are the swim lesson kids.  These kids are the worst.  I'm pretty sure the parents are not members, and that they just bring their kids in for lessons.  They scream at the top of their lungs, and run around the pool deck with reckless abandon.  And they puke and shit in the pool.

I was a kid once.  I am sure my behavior wasn't the best, but I also could poll my parents and see if I was this bad, and I'm positive I was not.  I think it's great to get kids involved with swim lessons.  JUST DON'T DO IT AT AN ADULT GYM.  That shit is for the YMCA.  There's one on 33rd Street, but I'm sure the white parents that bring their kids to the Merritt don't want to go to "The Hood." 

So let's calculate the impact of last night's shitshow:

Masters' swim was canceled.  Those people pay extra (on top of the absurd monthly membership fee) to get coaching, and the coach gets paid.  They swim Weds and Fri mornings, and Mon/Thurs nights.  Now your Friday morning masters swim is canceled, because the pool is closed.  And the pool will remain closed all day, meaning that all the other kids' swim lessons are canceled, as well as any of the adult private swim lessons that they do are canceled. 

The worst part?  Merritt sends out no notification of this.  They don't have it on their website, they don't tweet it, they don't put it on their Facebook page.  This is abhorrent.  I'm sure plenty of people are going to go out of their way to the gym today, expecting to swim, only to be denied.

Meanwhile, it just pisses regulars like us off.  So much so that I am now going to have to look into switching gyms.  And, because I feel like my valid concerns fall on deaf ears, I will speak poorly of the gym to anyone and everyone.  Here are my current pool options:

1. Meadowbrook.  This is THE place to swim, not just in Baltimore, but in America.  As their Twitter handle suggests, this is literally the @PoolOfChampions.  NBAC has produced Olympic greats Michael Phelps (co-owner now of the facility), Katie Hoff, Joanna Zeiger.  Plus, my friends/training partners OJ, Benda, Courtney, all swim there.  The problem is that it's 20 minutes north in the wrong direction, and I don't see myself driving there to swim when I'm not motivated.

2. MAC Harbor East.  This isn't much different a facility than the Merritt, it's 2 miles down the street, whatever.  It would be a lateral move.

3. 33rd St YMCA.  Cheap as dirt, but also dirty as dirt.  Don't like swimming there, and also 20 minutes away.

4. University of Maryland.  You know, if this wasn't egregiously far away, I would go there, because this beautiful pool is going to be unused soon, when they cut the Swimming and Diving programs.  The beautiful 10 lane 50m pool is deep, cold, and fast.  And the gym is awesome.  It *almost* makes me wish I lived closer.

In the end, they've got me by the balls.  Merritt has 3 locations in the City, with Canton being the premier, but the only valid option for swimming during the non-summer months.  Downtown Athletic Center has a 3 lane 20yd pool, so that's out.  Fort Ave only has the outdoor pool, so it's only open May-October.  But, no kids are allowed at that gym, I think it's 21 and older.

The summer is a weird time at the Canton pool, because on the weekends it turns into a club.  Yes, a nightclub.  Club Aqua, Saturday nights.  And during the day, they have a DJ out there and most of the bros and hoes are out there getting tan and drinking (there's a bar).  It's pretty uncomfortable to be there swimming for exercise, probably moreso for the girls who aren't in skimpy two-pieces.  Since I DGAF I just hop in in my speedo and unkempt, manly chest, and tan my cheeks. 

It's mostly just frustrating that they don't care.  The lifeguard apologized for having to kick us out, but you never hear a manager saying sorry, how can we make your experience better.  We tweet at them frequently, and they never engage with us.  That's irresponsible of a brand or organization, it's like why bother even being involved with social media?  They retweet the pretty bimbos who say things like "YAY! SO excited for Body Pump this morning!!!!" but they are missing out on an opportunity to engage with us, who have legitimate concerns. 

Instead, I'll just keep complaining and badmouthing them.  Like The Rock says in Fast Five:


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Leap Day

Thanks to 30 Rock, we learned that "real life is for March," which meant we had to find a way to honor the superfluous 24 hours we were given.  The day turned out to be one of the worst of the year.  Temps in the low to mid 40s throughout most of the day, under torrential downpour.  It seemed to be let up in the evening in time for our Leap Day 4k on the track, but no sooner had we been lulled into a false sense of security, it began pouring again.

There were over 20 of us on the track, fearless warriors, running 4000m around the track.  As we passed the 500m mark, some of the most fierce lightning bolts illuminated the sky in hues of pink and purple.  The smart move would have been to call it, and head for safety, but we are anything but smart.  The rain continued, the lightning blasted all around, and 10 laps later, we had the first ever Leap Day 4k in the books.

February ended up being the most mild February I can recall.  And while it's still a short month, the extra day enabled me to eclipse a pretty cool milestone for myself - 103,000 meters in the water.  The crazy thing is that most of that came in two weeks, when I was over 30k for each week.  I've had some of the best swims of my life, and feel better than I ever have in the pool.  I did a 75x100 workout, and then the 100x100 one a week later.  I've swam over 7k (two swims) a couple of times, and this week it all came together.

Didn't swim Sunday or Monday, and Saturday was light, so by Tuesday, I was feeling pretty good.  During the warmup, I could tell I was on one, so the main set of 30x100 on 1:40 was very comfortable.  I started swimming quicker as the swim went on, so the last 6 I tackled on 1:35.  Then I swam 2x200 and swam the fastest I've ever gone for 200 in that pool - 2:55 and 2:56.  The effort wasn't quite all out, but it was hard.  I wonder how many I could have done on 1:40...

Woke up on Leap Day and was not pumped to get in the pool a mere 10 hours after that swim.  It was tough, and I didn't expect a great swim.  For some reason, I really struggle with Alyssa's 200 workouts.  Normally they're done on a Tuesday morning, which means the first swim after at least a 36 hour layoff, and I get shelled.  This wasn't going to be any kinder, 10 hours after a 4500m night when I was so "on" - but I was going to give it my best shot.

12x200, groups of 3, working down on intervals.  The first couple made me think I wasn't going to make the easy ones, so there was no way I would make the hard ones.  But I summoned my courage and got it done.  And after 3700m, that put me at an even 103km for the month.  My previous high month came in July 2010 when I swam 101km.  So this was pretty cool.  Meaningless, but cool.

With the 9 miles at the track last night, I finished up with 175 miles for the month.  A little more than I did in January, but I'm feeling so-so about it.  I need to get my running back on track, that's for sure. 

I won't even mention my miles on the bike for February, as it's shorter than a Rocks ride.

But, February is now behind, Leap Day proved that nothing is impossible, and real life can resume.